Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 5, Chapter 3 (1131a10-1131b24)

By Aristotle

Book 5, Chapter 3 (1131a10-1131b24)

  • Hang on tight, because things are about to get hairy. Aristotle wants to define the middle term for injustice. And it's going to involve mathematical equations.
  • He posits that since the unjust are unequal, the middle term must be "equal." Therefore, the just are the "golden mean" in terms of social and political beings.
  • But we can't stop there. Aristotle insists that the "just" involves four terms: two people involved and two "matters of concern."
  • This means that there must be at least two people involved for a question of justice to arise, and that each of the two people brings an issue or need to the table.
  • Everybody and everything in this equation must be equal—otherwise discord and inequality arises.
  • In speaking of equal distribution, Aristotle isn't speaking of simple equality, where everyone gets the same exact thing. In this case, it's equality based on merit or worth.
  • But what measures worth/merit? Aristotle proposes a certain mathematical proportion expressed as a ratio of the four terms.
  • Properly speaking, the ratio is a geometric one—a proportion of lines.
  • All of this is to say that the "just" is the middle term, and that it represents an equal distribution (based on the proper proportion) of things held in common.
  • Things that are "unjust" or "unequal" defy this proportion—meaning that there is more on one side and proportionally less on the other.
  • Aristotle says that this is an accurate reflection of actions in life: the unjust grab more of the good and those who suffer injustice are left with more than their fair share of the bad.
  • If something (or someone) is to be considered just, he would need to have the lesser share of badness.
  • In other words, he would have to have good things and behave fairly toward others.
  • In order to right the wrongs of injustice, there has to be a correction of the unfair distribution that causes suffering.